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Not every hero wears a cape

Sometimes you hear a story about a person that makes you stop in your tracks and think, “Whoa. I could never do what that person is doing.”

Last night, I saw a story on the news about Darius Matsuda, a soon-to-be sophomore in high school who is visiting local middle schools to tell his story about growing up with autism. He shares with the students his experiences – including being forced into a circle with another boy while the others chant “Fight! Fight! Fight!” He explains what it’s like to live with autism – how it impacts your sensitivity to sound, light, and your ability to make friends.

It’s a powerful, personal story, and he’s already told it nine times to kids not that much younger than he is. All in the hopes that kids learn a little compassion for their fellow students, and understand that just because someone is different doesn’t mean they’re lesser than. Darius is going for Eagle Scout, and this is his service project.

This kid is amazing. Talk about putting yourself out there.

I bet that if we look hard enough, we all have someone like Darius around us. Someone with a story to tell, who has learned lessons in their life and are willing to share them. Not because it will help them…but because it will help those who come after them.

These are the heroes in your community and in your workplace. Listen to their stories. Learn their lessons.

Nice work, Darius.

 

If you want to learn more about autism and how to get involved, visit the Autism Society website

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Small talk and the decline of practically everything

There is a lot of chatter out there.

On any given day, millions of ideas are shared via the internet, via Twitter, LinkedIn, articles, this blog, etc. Lots of one liners, jokes, snarky comments; but also inspirational quotes, videos of baby goat yoga, lists of “life hacks” (whatever the hell those really are), etc. In fact, every minute on the internet sees, among other things, a minimum of 2.4 MILLION Google searches, 347,222 tweets on Twitter, and 972,222 Tinder swipes (may you all find love).

This is the age of Big Data [insert dramatic music here].

And yet, most of what is out there is little more than a tasting menu of ideas. It’s a one-way sharing of thoughts, feelings, observations, and/or ego. We dip our toe into the pool of discourse, but we don’t stay too long lest we get dragged into a debate, get attacked by trolls, or – lord forbid – have to participate in an honest-to-god CONVERSATION.

What happened to our ability to sit down and actually talk to people?

In high school and college, people were all about having deep, philosophical conversations about life, death, and everything in between. Yeah, they got pretty annoying sometimes, but it was good practice in identifying where you stood in the world. You were able to frame your argument, consider counterpoints, and share your own counterarguments. It was a great way to apply debate skills and decide what you may or may not believe in.

Granted…I did not have Twitter or Facebook when I was in college. We barely had the internet. #Iamnotold #dammit

Today, communication is built to be quick, witty, and shallow. I actually resisted Twitter for a LONG time because I do not believe 140 characters is enough room to communicate meaningfully. I now accept it for what it is, but still throw it the side-eye now and then because I think it’s part of the problem.

People don’t really talk anymore.

I am as guilty of this as anyone. As an affirmed introvert, I LOVE the fact that I can do so much “communicating” online, in writing, without actually have to see someone face to face. I hate talking on the phone voluntarily. I avoid networking events like the plague. Give me a chance to interact virtually and I will take it every single time. And it probably makes me less effective as a coworker/boss/friend/human being.

It’s easy to just stop typing when you’re not happy with the way a conversation is going. You can just block someone if they get a little too obnoxious. Or you just throw a hashtag out there (#micdrop) and act like you won.

Real world conversations take vulnerability. They take concentration. They take commitment.

I’m going to try to do better at this. I’m going to try and have better conversations with the people I actually see in real life.

This doesn’t mean I won’t be quick, witty, and shallow on the internet. Are you kidding?! That’s way too much fun. I’m just going to…try harder. I hope you do, too.

What’s the worst that could happen?

 
 

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Can you change your industry if you don’t consult?

It happened again. One of those The 25 Most Influential Whatevers Changing the Industry lists. The ones that inevitably have the same core group of names you see on every other list in the same industry. And the ones that seem to consist solely of consultants.

I’m not saying those people don’t deserve to be on those lists. The folks who make those lists have clearly gotten their message to a wider audience and are typically looked to as an expert in their field. And they work hard to earn that recognition.

What I am saying is that you almost never see an in-house person on those lists, what might be referred to as a “practitioner.” Oh, you see folks who own their own businesses and do it well, so it’s not like they aren’t working their butts off in “corporate America,” but they still tend to be on the outside looking in.

There are a lot of reasons why this might be the case, none of them nefarious; it’s just the nature of the work you do as a practitioner. First, let’s look at why consultants tend to make lists more often:

  • Consultants depend on getting their name, brand and messaging out there on a regular basis to build their business. You have a day job, the basic need of getting your name out there for a paycheck isn’t as strong.
  • Consultants are a third-party voice, and as such they get the “fresh eyes” credibility boost. Remember when you were new at your company and everyone thought you were brilliant? It’s the same effect sometimes for consultants.
  • Consultants know that they need to stay current to stay credible, so they do their homework on the latest and greatest stuff that’s going on. Also, a lot of them tend to be invited to speak at conferences, which means they see the most recent products and research…and it raises their visibility in the field.

So that begs the question – can you be recognized as an industry trailblazer when you’re working a 9-5?

Pigeons. In holes. Get it?

 

The short answer is yes…it just takes a lot more work.

First, figure out WHY you want to change your industry. Is it for personal glory? Or do you really think there’s got to be a better way to do it? If it’s personal glory….well, feel free to promote yourself out there and see how long you last. But if you really think there is a better way to do work within your industry, there are a few things you might consider doing on your way to trailblazer status:

  • Be a Mad Scientist: Your current organization is a great testing ground for new ways to do things within your industry. Think of it as your own little laboratory. When you get some interesting results, start sharing it with people in your industry.
  • GET ON SOCIAL MEDIA: I know, I know…EVERYONE is on social media. You know why? Because it’s a great place to network with other people who do your job, too! You can talk to people, ask them how they’re handling certain issues, share your expertise. And you don’t have to go to awkward after-work happy hours to meet them, either. It’s like an introvert’s dream.
  • Put yourself out there: This is sort of related to the social media one, but has a broader focus. If you want to impact your industry, you need to see more of your industry. Go to conferences (if you can). Volunteer locally if there is an industry membership group nearby. Reach out to similar organizations and see if you could visit to learn a little more about what they do. Don’t bury yourself in your bubble and assume you’re a rock star because you have figured out your company’s system. You need to find out about other systems before you can help change the industry.
  • Publish your findings – successes and failures: Publishing might seem kind of formal, but depending on your industry, it could be the way to go. Or, you know, you could start a blog. Or maybe apply to speak at some of those industry conferences you’ve heard so much about. Sharing what you’re doing with people outside of your organization is the best way to get feedback on what you’re doing AND to help influence what is going on in the industry.

Does that sound like a lot of work? It can be. You’ve got a day job, and a lot of this may need to happen at lunch breaks, evenings and weekends. No one said change was easy, but if you really want to impact your industry, you may need to burn the midnight oil every once in awhile.

Oh, and one last thing you might think about as you embark on this quest….

  • Be okay with making YOUR company better: Sometimes it’s enough to make a difference at your own place of business. Not every change will be industry-changing – often, it’s enough to know you’ve made work better for the people around you. And really…isn’t that the best kind of change?
 
 

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Fight the good fight

Let’s face it – no matter what our aspirations, most of us leaders will never ascend beyond middle management. That’s because unless we are a CEO of a company without a board (or we are ALSO the board chair), we all answer to somebody.

This perpetual state of “rock, meet hard place” means that leaders are constantly being asked to implement ideas, policies, projects, and other shenanigans they absolutely do not agree with. And even more, they know their employees will not agree with them, either.

The challenge is always knowing when to fight and when to support. In general, the rule of thumb has always been “fight up, complain across, support down.” Which…mostly works. It’s important that leaders know how to pick their battles and when to gain and spend political capital.

On the other hand…

There are times when your team really needs to see that you’re fighting for them. They need to believe you, their leader, has their back when they aren’t around to see it. They need to see that you are human, that you recognize when a policy from the higher ups seems contrary to the organization’s stated values, and that you are willing to stick your neck out for something that’s important.

Leaders, you won’t win on these. Most of the time the decision has already been made and you’re basically just fighting a whirlwind. You’ll be told you have your marching orders and that it’s happening with or without you, so it might has well be with you.

How you decide to react to that statement is up to you.

What I can tell you is that your team notices when you fight for them and with them. They know most of these issues are a losing battle. They know you’re putting your neck on the line. And because of that, they will be in that battle with you.

That means you have to be smart. That means you fight when it matters, not when you’re feeling petty. That means you explain why you’re fighting – so make sure the reason is worthy.

Being a leader means finding a balance in that gray area of supporting the organization’s mission and purpose and railing against anything that seems to be against the mission and purpose. Being a leader means knowing you will fight many times, and you will lose.

But being a leader also means showing your employees that with power comes responsibility, and being a manager sometimes means pushing back on authority now and then when the issue is important. It shows your employee you support them…and you expect them to also push back when the issue is important. Because informed dissent breeds innovation, and permission to dissent respectfully builds trust.

Yes, leaders. You will lose the occasional battle. But you just might win the war.

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2017 in General Rant about Leading

 

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Your zipper is down

May you always have someone in your life who will tell you your zipper is down.

May you have a friend who lets you know there’s cilantro stuck between your teeth.

May you have a significant other who tells you when you are overreacting.

May you have an archenemy who makes you smarter.

May that same archenemy be willing to team up with you against a common foe as needed.

May you have a boss who is brave enough to tell you to stop it, you’re making an idiot of yourself. 

May you have a best friend who gets it when you just text “Blergh.”

May you have a pet who loves you unconditionally…but totally leaves the room when you start yelling at the TV, because who’s got time for that?

May you have a health care provider who reminds you to take care of yourself.

May you have a teacher in your life whom you remember for the best of reasons.

May you have parents whose phone calls you sort of avoid because seriously, you don’t need to talk to me EVERY 3 hours, do you?

May you have all these things and more because it means you’re not alone. It means there are people out there who care enough to point out your faults. There is someone out there who wants to make sure you’re on the right path.

And if you have that, it means you have an obligation to be that person to someone else.

Because everyone needs at least one person who cares enough to tell you that your zipper is down.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2017 in Authenticity, Self-Awareness

 

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“I love me” – a lesson for leaders

At a recent work function, an employee was recognized for her tenure with the organization.

She was introduced, presented with her plaque, and applauded for her service. And then she gave a small speech.

The speech was very much her personality – heartfelt, spontaneous, funny, endearing. But one part stood out over all others.

She began the section by thanking those who helped her in her career. She acknowledged all the support and mentoring she received from those around her. She then talked about all she was able to accomplish, comparing herself to a butterfly. And then she paused, realized how much she was going on and on about herself, giggled, and said, “I love me.”

The crowd laughed. They loved it. It was so “her.”

She laughed along a little bit, then got serious and said, “It took me a long time to be able to say that.”


Imagine being brave enough to stand in front of a room of your peers – and your leadership team – and say those words.

How would your organization react? I mean, really….what would the people in the room say if this happened at your organization?

Would they be supportive? Would they applaud? Or would they politely clap while giving each other knowing glances that this is clearly a “career limiting move”?

For all our humanity in the workplace, we actually kind of suck at dealing with heartfelt emotion. When someone expresses gratitude earnestly in public, it makes us uncomfortable. Why is that? Have we really decided that people AREN’T people that we should pretend we have no emotions? I hate drama as much as the next person, but I also recognize that people bring different parts of their lives to work. Some folks look forward to work as a place to leave the chaos of their life behind. Some people enjoy work for the relationships they’ve developed. Some people overshare (we didn’t need to see videos of your knee surgery, but thanks!). Some people never share at all (it seems like there’s that one person who no one really knows, and it turns out they have something like 12 kids and were in a movie once).

The point is, we as leaders have done a poor job setting a good example about what is an is not okay in the workplace in terms of emotions. Someone probably cried in a VPs office once and it freaked him/her out, and the next thing you know, all the “how to succeed in business” articles started defining professionalism as “no emotion.” That message of “stoicism = strength = success” has been perpetuated for years.

But then came Emotional Intelligence and suddenly we’re all supposed to care about our feelings, and worse than that…THE FEELINGS OF OTHERS. Good lord. We are not equipped for that – especially leaders. We’ve worked hard to HIDE emotions, and promote those who do the same. So what happened? Some leaders went WAY too far the other way, and were all about sharing and caring and wearing their emotions on their sleeves. Which, frankly, makes a LOT of people uncomfortable. And again, emotion became something to make fun of.

We need to find balance, people. We need to find a way for people to BE people without BEING all over the other people who don’t like to BE in public. Leaders have a chance to connect with their people, and help their people connect with other people – in a completely appropriate and professionally supportive way. No, we don’t have to be in each others’ weddings – but recognize some people might. We don’t have to go out to happy hour with our coworkers – but there are a lot of people who do. The best way to promote balance is to watch and learn from people who are successful, but are also unafraid to show emotion. They cry, they vent, they laugh uncontrollably at cat videos. But they still get shit done and they still command respect from those around them.

Back to our story….


After the employee being honored finished her speech, she received a standing ovation. And it reinforced everything that’s good about being yourself at work. About acknowledging the mistakes you made during your career. About being grateful to those who helped you along the way. About the pain of growing up. And about the satisfaction of kicking butt at your job for a long time.

This is a person who had leaders who believed in her. Who pushed her when it looked like she needed pushing. Who encouraged her when she needed encouraging. Who supported her humor, her intelligence, her sass, and her abilities. In short, this is a person who had leaders who allowed her to discover who she was – someone who could finally say, “I love me.”

Leaders – if you can have ONE employee be able to say that, then you have done your job. You have helped someone realize their potential. You enabled instead of dictated. You got the hell out of the way and watched someone flourish because of what was inside them.

Here endeth the lesson.

 

 

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2017 in Authenticity, Coaching, Self-Awareness

 

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Survivor: Meetings Edition

If you clicked on this link because you thought it would be a thoughtful look at how to structure a meeting to ensure success, then you have come to the wrong place.

I am at the point where I no longer think it can be done on a consistent basis. Yes, you will have the occasional meeting where decisions are ACTUALLY made and people leave feeling like they accomplished something. But let’s be honest…those are few and far between. And do we REALLY think one more article reminding everyone to have an agenda and desired outcomes is going to make a difference?survivor

I didn’t think so.

And so, for your edification and general sanity, I present the following tips for surviving meetings:

  • Bring your smartphone: Seems pretty basic, right? But how else are you going to stay occupied during the update you’ve heard in 4 other meetings? And besides, if someone calls you out, you can say you were just pulling up the email with the attachment the person was talking about. (Hint: have that pre-loaded. Just in case.)
  • Bring a notebook: This is essential. It’s low tech. It doesn’t rely on good signal. And no one can accuse you of not paying attention because it looks like you’re taking notes…even if you’re just doodling, jotting down a grocery list, or finally writing that novel you’ve always known you had inside you.
  • Choose your seat carefully: It’s good to sit next to someone you like so you can exchange meaningful glances when something goofy is said. If that’s not possible, then sit across from that person so you can silently laugh when appropriate. There’s always an opportunity to text that person from afar as needed. (See “bring your smartphone.”)
  • Pretend the person who drones on and on is monologuing: This is straight from The Incredibles. At some point, the villain ALWAYS monologues. This is your chance to dream up your amazing escape! I’m sure lasers will be involved somehow. There should be lasers. But not capes. For obvious reasons.
  • Play Devil’s Advocate: This one is more about amusement than survival, but whatever. Some people believe the Outlook meeting is the required time to hold the meeting, so they’re not going to end early if they can help it. Why not spice up the festivities with a little, “Just playing devil’s advocate?” For example, the group is talking about ways to increase customer service. You can pipe in with a, “Just playing devil’s advocate here, but is the customer REALLY always right? I’d hate for us to go down a certain path on a false premise.”
  • Fake a sneezing fit: Coughing works, too. Anything that requires you to inarticulately point at your face and make a beeline for the door.

If you find yourself relying on one or more of these on a regular basis, your company has a problem with meetings. Now you have a choice – either perpetuate the issue or take a stand and stop going unless you know why the meeting is taking place. It only takes one strong voice to question the recurring meeting, and it only takes one smart question to find out why 10 people are sitting in a room.

Or you can fake sneeze. Because that makes you look like an adult.

What have YOU done to liven up your awful meetings? I want to hear from you!

 
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Posted by on March 1, 2017 in culture, Teamwork

 

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